Catskill 3500 Club members hike region’s highest peaks

Catskill 3500 Club members hike region’s highest peaks (video)

Published: Monday, May 13, 2013

Freeman staff

HIKING a peak of 3,500 feet or more and finding romance is not for the faint of heart, but for the secretary and new president of the Catskill 3500 Club, that’s where their feet took them.

“I met the club requirements in 2001. And, well, Tom and I met on a hike five years ago,” said Laurie Rankin, parent/consumer specialist for the Child Care Council of Family of Woodstock, who is secretary of the club. Her husband, Tom, became club president at the recent annual meeting.

Founded in 1962, the all-volunteer Catskill 3500 Club marked its 50th anniversary in 2012. It has about 2,000 members with 800 winter members.

The annual membership fee is a mere $10 and includes a quarterly newsletter and a hike schedule. Those who have not yet completed the club requirements can participate as aspirant members.

The club name comes from its membership requirements: To hike all 35 Catskill peaks over 3,500 feet, plus an additional four peaks of the same height during the winter, a total of 39 peaks.

“Hiking the four peaks in winter is unique to the club,” Rankin said. She said an award certificate is presented at the annual dinner to those who met the requirements the previous year.

“The hikes don’t need to be accomplished in one year. You could take 35 years, doing one peak a year, and some members have,” Rankin said. She said members need to climb the 39 peaks just once.

“We sponsor hikes every Saturday and Sunday, except during big game hunting season, so the opportunities to climb are available almost all year,” Rankin said.

She said the hikes are led by experienced volunteers, who provide advice on peak conditions, where to go, gear to bring, boots to wear and layers to bring, reminding hikers to make sure they have enough water and to carry snow shoes for the mountaintop.

“It may be spring in the valley, but there is almost always deep snow at the peak until summer,” Rankin said.

All peaks, except two, are part of the Catskill Park, with most of them in Ulster and Greene counties.

“The two peaks outside the park are considered part of the Catskills,” Rankin said. Only two peaks are on private property; the rest are located on state-owned land.

Although Catskill Park borders state Route 28 West, Rankin said many of the trailheads are located in remote valleys.

“You learn to drive as well as hike,” she said. She said the duration of the hikes vary — some may be as short as 5 miles while others, looped together, run into the 15-to-20-mile range.

“Then, there’s Devil’s Peak, which is 23 miles end to end, with an elevation gain of 10,000 feet over the summit,” Rankin said.

She said the legend of Devil’s Peak is that God created the world and on the seventh day threw rocks at the Catskills.

“It was left to the devil,” she said humorously.

Rankin said members also do a lot of volunteer work in the Catskills.

“We maintain a section of the trail at Table Peak, with the trailhead at Denning, and at Peekamoose, along Ulster County Route 42,” she said.

Rankin said members also maintain three lean-tos, a three-sided structure with a roof for temporary shelter, at Table, the side of Hunter Mountain and at Balsam Lake.

“We have also been involved in building lean-tos, from clearing the ground to building the structure,” Rankin said.

Rankin said five of the fire towers in Catskill Park have been refurbished and are accessible to the public.

“The fire towers were originally used to spot smoke in the mountains, but today our volunteers provide historic and interpretive services, as well as local trail information,” she said.

Rankin said the club is a terrific organization for families, with youngsters as young as 6 and the young-at-heart in their 80s hiking.

“Our fee is low and hiking is a wonderful inter-generational activity that families can do together with little expense. Most peaks have no-fee parking areas,” Rankin said.

The club also sponsors Wilderness First Aid classes usually held in a firehouse, with a scholarship offered to the company in exchange for use of the facility, Rankin said.

“Hike leaders are offered the first opportunity to take the class so they can handle any injuries on the trail, then it’s offered to members,” she said.

However, one of the most valuable classes the club offers is map and compass reading, Rankin said.

“A GPS works fine on a straight, smooth roadway, but fails under a heavy tree canopy,” Rankin said.

“Unless your compass battery fails, like mine did once, you need a backup — a map and another compass. And, you need to know how to read the map,” she said.

Rankin said of the 35 peaks, 13 have no trails.

“You have to use a compass and map to navigate,” she said.

If there is no trail, how do hikers know they’ve reached the peak?

“We received permission from the state Department of Environmental Conservation years ago to attach a bright orange canister to a tree at the peak,” Rankin said.

“There’s a log book inside and you sign in. No matter how many times you reach a peak and see your name as you sign in again — it’s such a thrill every time.”

Further information on the Catskill 3500 Club can be obtained on the website:;


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September 5, 2013 · 5:59 pm



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Hiking Trails in the Catskills Mountains of NY

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The origin of many hiking trails in NY State have their roots in the Native American-made paths to various hunting grounds. The intrepid artists of the Hudson River School used these trails to find beautiful panoramas to sketch and later paint in their studios.

There is a wide variety of hiking trails ranging from the most easy such as the paved and flat like the path along the Ashokan Reservoir. to extremely difficult 3 mountain loop of Devil’s Path or the ascent to Slide Mountain.

Very Easy Trails:

• Ashokan Reservoir:
Its two long walkways provide a panorama of the Catskill Mtns and the pristine Reservoir that serves as the drinking water for NYC. Great for bicycles, walkers and wheelchairs, the two paths are beautiful stretches of wide paved paths that curve for 3 miles along the Ashokan Reservoir. To get to this wide vista, travel to Winchell’s Corners on Route 28, turn onto Reservoir Road. At the junction of “BWS road” make a left and at 28A, make another left. Travel ¼ mile and make the next left and at the end of the road is a roundabout parking area for both paths.

• Colgate Lake:
A magical hidden gem off of Rt 23A near Tannersville, this pristine, man-made lake is open for swimming, although there are no lifeguards or roped in areas so visitors need to take appropriate precautions. There is a small trail that circumnavigates the entire lake that is bowled in by mountains. Caution must be used around Colgate Lake as there can be poison ivy.

Easy NY Hiking Trails:

• Kaaterskill Falls:
The two tiered falls of 175 and 85 feet are the highest waterfalls in New York State. The lower Falls is reached by a trail beginning on Rt 23A. Driving east from Tannersville and Haines Falls, park on the area to the right before the highway makes its steep descent down the mountain. Then, walk carefully along the road until you reach a hairpin turn and the falls are seen on your left. To reach Kaaterskill Falls from the top, travel east on 23A and make a left onto Country Rd 18 by the Twilight Deli and then, about a mile later, a right onto Laurel House Road. Park at the end of the road and follow the trail 1/5 of a mile to a worn bank supported by wooden beams.

This is the top of Kaaterskill Falls and extreme caution must be used to descend onto the huge boulders to get a look at the valley below. We do not recommend a descent as the ground is slippery and there are many injuries, but there is a small short trail that runs to the right. Walking with care, you can get a nice side view of the falls and the natural amphitheater it has carved out over the centuries.

• Escarpment trail North-South Lake:
The short hike to the site of the Catskill Mountain House provides the reward of incredible vistas of the Hudson Valley and the Berkshires beyond. Longer and more strenuous hikes can bring you to such spots as Artist’s Rock, Sunset Rock, Newman’s Ledge, Boulder Rock, and the Kaaterskill Hotel and Laurel House sites. Follow the well-marked trails and maps to lead you where you want to go. Swimming is permitted at North-South Lake, but only when there is a lifeguard present.

• Diamond Notch Falls:
This hike has an amazing variety of indigenous, native plants and flowers that grow along the path. Please note that any digging or picking of greenery is strictly prohibited. The walk is steep in places, but not difficult to navigate. The waterfalls add a special interest and there is a wooden bridge above the falls that offers a different view of the cascade. Travel up Rt 214 to Lanesville, turn left onto Diamond Notch Rd and park at the very end. The trail starts at the far right corner of the lot.

Moderate NY Hiking Trails:

• Hunter Mountain:
For a unique experience, take the Sky Ride from the Hunter Mtn Ski Center. The lift will take you up a 1600 foot vertical from the valley floor. A 2 mile hike from there will take you to the fire tower with beautiful views of the Catskill High Peaks, but this is a steep challenge. Less active hikers may want to enjoy the view from where the Hunter Sky Ride leaves you off and just hike back down to the base.

• Overlook Mountain:
This popular hike is located a couple of miles north of the Village of Woodstock. Take Rock City Rd north from the Village Green all the way to the top of Overlook Mountain where it will change its name to Mead’s Mt. Road. Parking is on the right and the trail is to the left. The climb is steep and uphill for 2.5 miles but the 360 degree view from the fire tower at the mountaintop is the best in the Catskills! Also note an abandoned ruin of a stone hotel from the 1930s about 2 miles up. Great for dramatic photographs!

• Giant Ledge-Panther Mt. Trail:
This trail starts out easy with yellow markers, switches to the more challenging blue markers after the spectacular view of Giant Ledge, which is located roughly 1.6 miles up the trail and afterwards, follows a North-South Ridge for another mile.

Difficult NY Hiking Trails:

• Slide Mountain
Another tough hike, but the Slide Mountain Hiking Trail is also the most rewarding! With an elevation of 1780 ft and a 5.4 mile round trip, you will need lots of water and good hiking boots. It’s the highest peak in the Catskills, so the view from the summit is unparalleled. To get there, drive to the end of Woodland Valley Road off Rt 28 near Phoenicia and travel to the very end to the Woodland Valley Campground. The trail head will be on the left with parking on the right.

• Devil’s Path:
Also called Devil’s Tombstone, this is known as the toughest hiking path in the Eastern U.S. Hikers are drawn to it as it allows them to cover 5 peaks in one excursion. This self guided trail can be done in 3 sections or combined. The first section, Plateau Mtn, is 8 miles roundtrip and culminates in a nice view over to Hunter Mtn. Then the trail levels out (the plateau) and the highest point is at the far eastern end about 2 miles away. Continue on a short distance from the summit and a view of Sugarloaf Mtn opens up. The Hunter Mtn Section is 4.15 miles; the West Kill Mtn Section is 7 miles for a total of 24.20 miles of hiking. The best access is to drive from Phoenicia 8 miles north on Rt 214 and park at the Devils Tombstone parking area on the left. The trail head starts on the right.

Whatever your chosen skill level, it will be easy to find just the right hike in NY’s Catskills. Make it a weekend getaway and enjoy all the Catskill have to offer.

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Outdoor notebook: Rochester couple compiles birding book

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A lot people enjoy bird watching. But how about crisscrossing the country to glimpse chickadees, cardinals, hawks and hummingbirds?

Rochester couple Randi and Nic Minetor, who have collaborated on more than a dozen books on history, hiking and America’s national parks, never pass up a chance to study and photograph birds during their travels.

Their birding pleasure became the basis for a new book now in stores titled Backyard Birding: A Guide to Attracting and Identifying Birds.

“It’s the culmination of our cross-country travels,” Randi said. “We shot for this book in 16 national parks as well as backyards across America.”

Birds don’t visit backyards by accident; like all wildlife, they come because of food, water and shelter.

Randi Minetor leaves no seed unturned in giving readers clearly written advice on what feeders, nesting boxes, shrub and tree plantings work best. Nic contributed more than 250 stunning color photographs.

When it came to tracking down various species, the Minetors discovered a lot of helpful birders on the way to press, particularly those with the Rochester Birding Association.

“People love to share their experiences and we are so grateful,” Randi said.

Shortly after its May launch, the Minetors’ book ($19.95 Lyons Press) rose to No. 2 among bird-watching books on It has made its way into wildlife refuge and nature center bookstores. It’s also available at Barnes and Noble, Borders and The Bird House, 3035 Monroe Ave. Go to

Helping hands: Despite difficult budgetary times, assistant forest rangers and backcountry stewards are on trail assisting hikers and campers on state lands this summer.

DEC commissioner Joe Martens restored 11 out of 33 assistant ranger positions in the Adirondacks that were eliminated a year ago.

Meanwhile, a backcountry steward program has been created with 24 college-age interns hired to help out in the Adirondacks, Catskills, Eastern Lake Ontario Dunes, Salmon River and Hemlock-Canadice State Forest. The Student Conservation Association federally funds the program and the Adirondack Mountain Club trained the interns.

Musselman: The eighth annual Musselman Triathlon is taking place July 15-17 in Geneva and will have a title sponsor for the first time: WoolSports of Dallas, Texas.

WoolSports makes athletic wear out of Merino wool shorn from sheep in Australia and New Zealand and shipped to the United States for manufacturing into things like T-shirts, socks and caps. Musselman founder Jeff Henderson likes the product because it’s natural and renewable.

In the past, the Musselman has given its participants shirts made of 100 percent bamboo.

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Actual Wild Strawberries Appear in the Union Square Greenmarket

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Yes, wild strawberries are almost unbelievably small.

Maybe you’ve stumbled upon a patch while hiking in a remote part of the Catskills in late springtime, lured across a meadow by a tiny flash of brilliant red, but for most of us, wild strawberries remain an idea rather than a reality, or merely the title of a movie by Ingmar Bergman.

​While the quantity seems small for $6, each box represents about $600 worth of flavor.

Sure, diminutive Tristar strawberries, which are bred from wild strawberries, are readily available, but I’d never seen foraged wild strawberries in the farmers’ market before I stumbled on a display of a few boxes at the stall of Berried Treasures, of Cooks Falls, New York, in the western Catskill Mountains. I snapped up a box immediately, and the clerk threw in another box since nobody seemed to be buying them.

The berries are no bigger than a baby’s thumbnail, and have to be sold still on their stalks, since trying to pull them off would squish them for certain. The flavor is over-the-top memorable, with some berries intensely sweet, while others are just intense. And you can’t do anything but eat them. Immediately.

​Berried Treasures will also be selling Tristar strawberries later in the season.

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Catskill Camping with the Bear and the Boo-Hoo Baby

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The word foolhardy kept coming to mind in the last several days. A composite of foolish and hardy, I thought, as we went through the motions – many motions – of tent-camping with two young kids. Our vacation was hard work, one day of packing and one day of unpacking sandwiching two nights in the woods of the gorgeous North-South Lake State Park in the Catskills, complete with pristine lake beaches, boat rentals, spectacular hiking trails, playground, and black bear.

I have several fond memories of camping with one kid – even the tree nearly falling on us feels quaint at this point – but two was a whole different animal. In some regards, we are professional campers; in many others, nimcompoops. Professional: our REI Kingdom 6 two-room tent sleeps six (though who would?) and is probably the nicest thing we own; we have skewers just for marshmallow roasting, featuring rotation dial and telescoping extension. Nincompoopery: well, this demands perhaps the rest of my column.

Let’s start with bringing a nine-month-old in the first place. Forget the terrible-twos: our toddler was a piece of cake compared with the decibels this baby can output. She is preverbal, which does not mean this model comes without sound. In fact, what seems unbearably loud at home (drowned out by that toddler, radio, singing toys, fans) is 1,000 times louder in the eerie quiet of the full moon woods.

Husband and I were constantly cringing, trying to muffle and/or appease our little creature. Not that we would really muffle her, per se, but we did consider the etiquette – at 3am when she awoke…and then at 4, 5 and finally 6, along with other various testy moments during the day – of letting a baby just sleep/scream in the somewhat sound-proof safety of the car. It occured to me Addie is perhaps in the absolute nonsweet spot of travelling, with her tragic trilogy of frustrations: teething, not being able to do more than sit, and not being able to express her frustrations.

I had the feeling in the middle of the night, hearing our human neighbors rustling with disgruntled sleep-interruption, of being a parent on an airplane. Trapped and powerless. I hoped they were sympathetic – of course I knew they would be, as they too had kids, but that didn’t stop the agony when every one-second of scream-time equals an eternity.

Sure people had kids, most everyone here had kids, but they didn’t have babies. I kept wondering if these folks thought we were bonkers…until I heard another heartwrenching clamor echoing through the trees, and knew they were out there somewhere, other nincompoops. It was as comforting as marshmallows and cheap canned beer.

Which brings me to consumption. The fun, I think, of the work of camping is the old-world kind of effort it takes to build up and break down the meals. Food cooked over a fire just tastes so darn good, which must be due in part to feeling earned.

I also love losing the trappings of technology – both our cell phones conveniently died right away which didn’t bother me a bit. The toddler was estactic despite her TVlessness. Save for the old man who approached me on the beach to show me his iPad (why?), we were free of any of the signs of our times.

And then there was that anachronistic-seeming bear wandering along the edge of our campsite. Perhaps this also falls into the category of nincompoop (is the etiquette for those with young kids to promptly run for their lives?). Well, the bear seemed harmless enough and we did our best to keep our site clean and food-free.

Our packed-to-the-gills jalopy of a car was our lifeline, our sanctuary, our bearproof food storage, our way out. And as we drove homeward through the beautiful green mountain passes, Jeff and I asked each other again the question we had asked intermittently throughout the trip. Is it worth it? Is this camping thing really worth all the work? Definitely. Will we do it again any time soon? Ask me again tomorrow.

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Outdoors: Go camping to reconnect with nature

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A cool shaded campsite with pleasant views, kids fishing nearby, enjoying the sunset over the nearby lake and relaxing around a campfire while planning tomorrow’s activities. These are the common images most people have of camping today.

Perhaps you remember or think of camping as sleeping on the hard ground in a crowded tent and cooking hotdogs over an open fire. Well it was and still can be that, but it also ranges to people spending time in a luxurious RV. For most people it is probably somewhere in between.

Technology has evolved so if you are tent camping it is probably in a much improved and roomier tent, sleeping on an air mattress and using the latest Coleman stove or lantern. Even if you are backpacking or camping primitive style it certainly is not as rough as it used to be. The idea of camping includes everything from hiking into the West Canada Lakes Wilderness to traveling by motor home to a private campground.

Camping is a popular pastime with a long tradition, especially in New York State with its abundance of public forest land and state parks or campgrounds. In addition to an affordable way to spend a weekend or vacation, it also gives people an opportunity to reconnect with nature. State campgrounds in the Adirondacks and Catskills are operated by the Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC) while those in the rest of the state are run by Office of Parks & Recreation (OPR).

State parks usually take advantage of a natural attraction (such as a lake) and offer less amenities but more natural activities such as boating, fishing, etc. For example, there are many campgrounds along the St. Lawrence River, Lake Ontario, Finger Lakes and countless smaller lakes or ponds in central NY.

Designated campsites at state campgrounds usually offer swimming, fishing, hiking, playgrounds for kids and more. Usually there is a variety of wildlife there or nearby. For example, two of the campgrounds we frequent have ospreys while another has a pair of bald eagles. In campgrounds operated by OPR a certain number of sites usually have electric hookups, while there are none in DEC campgrounds.

Both OPR and DEC campgrounds are listed in a booklet “New York Camping Guide” with lots of information on facilities found at each. You can obtain this guide as well as get information on line by visiting the web site

Reservations can be made by going though Reserve America at 1-800-456 CAMP or http://www.newyorksta

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The Great Northern Catskills—Offering Outdoor Exploration & Friendly Competition

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This summer, awaken to adventure in the Great Northern Catskills! Get outside and explore, from the highest mountain peaks, to the historic Hudson River and everything in between. Located just two hours from metro New York and 3 hours from Boston, the Northern Catskills are the perfect family vacation destination, offering an array of Catskills outdoor activities and sporting events, all summer long.

The Northern Catskills boast 5 of the 10 highest peaks of the Catskill range, all with elevations over 3,500 feet. There are opportunities for all-day excursions or easy walks through the woods. Take a scenic hike to Kaaterskill Falls, the highest cascading waterfall in New York State. It’s a 260 foot, two-tiered waterfall that has attracted tourists, poets and painters since the early 1800s. Other popular Catskills hiking trails include Diamond Notch Falls, the Hunter Mountain Fire Tower Hike, Newman’s Ledge and the Catskill Mountain House site at North-South Lake State Park.

The region’s vast wilderness also lends itself it to camping adventures of all kinds—from the area’s two state campgrounds – Devils Tombstone and North-South Lake, to nearly a dozen privately-owned campgrounds and an assortment of cabins. Or if you prefer, pitch your tent under a pine grove and experience the solitude of a starry mountain night.

For thrill seekers and biking enthusiasts, don’t miss the UCI MTB World Cup Bike Race at Windham Mountain, July 7-10, 2011, featuring cross country and downhill events. Or check out the 4th annual Tour of the Catskills, America’s largest Pro/Am stage race, on August 5th and 7th. For a longer ride, sign up for the 7th annual 6-day, 200-mile Great Hudson Valley Pedal through the historic Hudson Valley on August 16-21, 2011.

Other summer sports competitions include the 11th annual Great Hudson River Paddle, Rumble in the Catskills III—an amateur boxing tournament, the Windham Warrior Dash—a 3.2 mile obstacle course race, and the Round Top Rally Mountain Bike Race— the New York State Championship Series Finale.

The Great Northern Catskills are a four season, affordable family vacation destination offering popular New York all-inclusive family resorts, fun attractions and endless opportunities for outdoor exploration. From bike races, to scenic hikes, to boxing matches and obstacle course races, there is no shortage of action-packed sporting adventure. Discover the many unique Catskills events and activities held throughout the summer. Awaken to adventure in the Great Northern Catskills!

About The Great Northern Catskills of Greene County:

Greene County is located in the Great Northern Catskill Mountains and the verdant Hudson River Valley. The region is home to five of the 10 highest Catskill peaks and the Catskill State Park. Greene County is renowned as the home of Thomas Cole’s Hudson River School of Landscape Painting and the inspiration for Washington Irving’s literary legend, Rip Van Winkle, and was named in honor of American Revolutionary War General Nathanael Greene. This 286,000 acre wilderness offers abundant year-round outdoor recreation and unique cultural events. For more information please visit or connect with the Great Northern Catskills of Greene County on Facebook.


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Hiking is a Zen Experience In The Great Western Catskills

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